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    Message at the Opening Ceremonies of Angat Buhay Young Leaders in Government Fellowship

    Opening Ceremonies of Angat Buhay Young Leaders in Government Fellowship

    Estancia de Lorenzo, San Mateo, Rizal

    Thank you very much! Maupo po tayong lahat.

    Dr. Johannes Kadura of FES [Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung]; Ms. Joy Aceron, [Executive Director] of G-Watch; Mr. Augustus Cerdeña, Program Coordinator of FES; my dear [fellow] workers in government—siyempre kasama na iyong aking Angat Buhay staff na ang gaganda ngayon [laughter]; sa inyo pong lahat: magandang, magandang hapon.

    I have a speech prepared, but as I was seated in front, I was wondering what transpired during the orientation this morning,, and I decided to do away with the prepared speech and give a brief orientation also. Siyempre hindi ko alam kung anong sinabi sa inyo kanina pero just in case… just in case hindi pa nabanggit.

    Just to give you a context of why you are doing this, why you are partnering with organizations like FES and G-Watch. After the 2016 elections and I became Vice President—this was before the inauguration—one of the things that I decided to look into was the budget of the office. And that was when I realized that the Office of the Vice President has one of the smallest budgets in the entire bureaucracy, and not only that, when I looked at our budget, money was mostly for the operations of the office, salaries of employees, and ceremonial work. Mayroon namang medical assistance, pero wala talaga iyong programa.

    So that was before the inauguration, but that was when I decided that we should exert a lot of effort into reinventing the office and converting it from a mere ceremonial office into an advocacy-heavy office. And when we decided to do that, it has been deliberate on our part to hire very, very young members of our staff.

    So kapag lumingon-lingon kayo, sa lahat na taga-Office of the Vice President dito, ako lang iyong matanda. [laughter] All the members of my staff are very young people. At one point, the average age in the office was 26 [years old]. I don’t know kung ilan na ngayon but that was deliberate. It was deliberate because we wanted to take advantage of the energy and the innovativeness, and the openness of very young people.

    Marami sa amin na nagwa-warn…a lot of people are warning us that young people nowadays are so different from the young people of our yesteryears. Dati, kami, when we were fresh graduates and we were looking for work, our idea was that our first work will already be our work for life—at least iyon iyong orientation. Sabi sa amin, “Ngayon, hindi na. Hindi iyan magtatagal sa inyo. Hindi niyo maaasahan. Baka masyado lang ma-gimik,” etc. Pero parang hindi naman totoo. Most of the—except for a few—most of the young staff that we hired at the start of our term three years ago are still with the office now, and our office has depended on them for much of what we have achieved.

    When—this was still before the inauguration—in trying to reinvent the office and making it more advocacy-heavy, we decided to launch an anti-poverty program, which we now call Angat Buhay. I don’t know if you have been oriented about Angat Buhay already this morning, pero Angat Buhay, it was what I wanted to do from the very start. And I think, part of the reason—or the main reason—why I wanted to do it was not just because of the reality that poverty incidence in the Philippines is still very high, but also because of my orientation before.

    Joy [Aceron] has worked extensively with my late husband because he was the politician in the family. My husband was mayor of Naga for six terms. And he was the one who was in government. I worked in government briefly as a litigation lawyer for the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO). But most of my life as a lawyer was devoted to alternative lawyering.

    Iyong alternative lawyering, hindi siya traditional lawyering in the sense na iyong traditional lawyering nagtatanggap ka ng mga kliyente, and you are limited by the bounds of what is in the law. Pero alternative lawyering is you try to go the poorest of the communities. Communities who do not have much access to legal services and you try to educate them of their rights under the law, with the belief that if they know their rights under the law, they would be in a better position to fight for their rights.

    So iyon iyong ginagawa namin for a very long time. I was involved in this work for 10 years. We go to the poorest communities. Sa Bicol ako naka-assign, in the Bicol Region. And what we did was we translated laws into the dialect and we teach communities how to defend themselves. So iyong mga urban poor papaano ba sila hindi ma-e-eject, iyong mga magsasaka papaano ba sila hindi mapapaalis ng mga abusive landlords, iyong mga mangingisda papaano ba mapo-protect iyong kanilang rights from iyong mas mayayaman na mga troll fishers or boat owners, etc. So that was what I did for the longest time while my husband was mayor of Naga.

    So iyong orientation ko ganoon and because I wanted to do, to make the office relevant, iyon naman iyong alam kong gawin, so we decided that the office will take care of very poor communities. But our problem was we did not have resources for it. Talagang kapag kahit ipiga mo iyong budget namin, wala ka talagang makukuha for programs. And this was understandable considering that if you look at our Constitution, the only mandate of the Vice President is succession. Pero it does not mean that we will limit ourselves to what is already there.

    So ito, parang we had to think out of the box, we had to innovate, we had to reinvent—so Angat Buhay was born. Gusto naming tumulong sa very poor communities, ang problema namin walang pera. So we decided to position ourselves as a sort of a conduit—a conduit between communities needing help and private organizations wanting to help.

    Naalala ko iyong launch namin in October 2016, parang ano siya, developmental speed dating. Pumili kami ng 50 of the poorest… 50 of the poorest communities and we chose them out of the GIDA areas—iyong Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas—from the 20 poorest provinces in the Philippines. We chose 50 and we told the mayors and the other officials of those areas na, “You have to sell yourselves, you have to convince our partners that you deserve to be helped.” So during the launch, parang mayroon silang mga booth na binebenta nila iyong kanilang mga problema. And we invited—how many partners? 300 plus, ano?—300 plus private organizations. And during that day, the 300 plus private organizations were going around while the mayors and the other local officials were pitching their problems—and at the end of the day, we were able to gather more than 700 pledges. So that was the start of Angat Buhay. Laway lang iyong aming kapital, wala kaming pera.

    Pero one of the realizations is that there are so many private, not just groups but also individuals, who wanted to help but just didn’t know how, and we provided that platform. So kami lahat iyong pagod, we did all the coordinating, we did all the linkaging, we did not accept money donations. What we did was… we did not want to promote a donor-beneficiary kind of relationship, but we wanted the relationship to be partnerships. So whenever a private organization would tell us that we want to adopt this community to do this particular kind of program, what we did was bring them to the communities. And iyong naging resulta, kapag nandoon na sila sa communities, iyong binibigay nila hindi na lang iyong pledge nila, but some of them have been helping our communities for three years already and iyong iba, nagdagdag na nang nagdagdag ng communities because they felt relevant—and we felt that we were able to fill a void.

    Iyong kabutihan nito, we did not want to compete with government. We went to places that are most inaccessible. Iyong example namin na isa is Agutaya in Northern Palawan. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Agutaya but I came across Agutaya when I was still Housing Secretary because the provincial officials of Palawan were telling us [that] Agutaya is the poorest municipality of Palawan. So we decided to go.

    We did not know that it was that far. We had to fly to Coron and then from Coron, we had to take two boat rides—the first boat ride was from Coron to Cuyo and it takes 10 hours to go there; and Cuyo to Agutaya, another 4 to 6 hours depending on which island you are visiting.

    The first time we went, people were crying. And apparently, those were tears of joy because it felt—for them—it felt like they were forgotten already, and it was the first time that a national government official was visiting them. But we were not prepared for the kind of suffering that the people there have been undergoing.

    The entire municipality did not have electricity. They did not have potable water, they had to buy from the town proper many kilometers… very far from Agutaya. The only elementary school in Barangay Diit, which we visited, had no roof. Ang sabi sa amin, nasira because of [Super typhoon] Yolanda and Yolanda, I think, when we went was already three, four years ago. Most of the people were involved in seaweed farming, pero wala na silang bangka kasi nasira rin ng Yolanda. Noong tinanong namin, “Paano kayo nakaka-seaweed farming?” Nagre-rent sila doon sa may mga natirahan pang mga bangka pero they had to wait for the boats to be free, and talagang sobrang hirap.

    Most of the children were stunted. Pinalinya nila iyong mga—bihirang may bisita, eh—pinalinya nila iyong mga bata sa—wala ngang kalye doon, parang, anong tawag doon? Parang iyong maliliit na lakaran, eskinita lang—pinalinya nila iyong mga bata from Kinder to Grade 6, nasa Grade 5 na kami, kasing-liit pa rin ng Grade 1 iyong mga bata. And we were told that they were stunted, and as you very well know, stunting is irreversible after the age of five.

    So we left with very heavy hearts. Talagang sobrang… wala kaming dalang tulong, eh. Nandoon kami just to assess. But you know, less than a month after we went, we found partners. Right now, more than 400 households in five barangays have been energized already. Iyong aming partners, ASA Philippines and Team Energy, naglagay ng mga solar panels sa mga bahay, and mayroon na silang kuryente. The good thing about… the fact that their houses have been energized already is iyong women found new sources of livelihood. Ngayon, gumagawa na sila ng mga buri hats, mats, etc., which are sold to the nearby Amanpulo.

    Nakahanap kami ng partner, St. Theresa’s [College] Alumni Association, who gave away boats to the fishermen. So iyong mga walang boats, hindi na nag-aarkila. We brought—sino iyong partner natin na nag-training ng seaweed farming?—Palawan State University who trained the seaweed farmers and gave them technical skills and knowhow. Marami nang… we were able to set up a toy library kasi noong una naming punta, iyong nilalaro ng mga bata live crabs na tinatalian; iyon iyong parang kotse nila. So naglagay kami ng toy library. I was not with the team when the toy library was set up, pero ang kuwento nila, ayaw nang umuwi ng mga bata kasi apparently, parang it was the first time na nakapaglaro sila. So, those things.

    But as we went along, marami nang ibang mga needs na nakikita namin and iyong mga partners namin, naghahanap na rin ng expansion ng kanilang areas where they want to adopt. We started with 50 [communities], after almost three years, we are now in 193 communities.

    It has been very fulfilling pero why am I telling you this? I am telling you this because it is an example that the scarcity of resources, or any other limitations that you may come across with, should not be a reason for you not to do the work that you want to do. Kasi sa gobyerno, ang daming frustrations, ‘di ba? Ang dami mong gustong gawin, gusto mo na ngang gawin, ang dami pang bawal, ‘di ba? Hindi lang sa maraming bawal, pero sometimes policies are unreasonable, ‘di ba? Parang ang feeling mo, you are bogged down by bureaucratic red tape.

    Pero I always tell my staff—ako iyong bad cop parati sa opisina kaya, ewan ko lang, siguro… siguro ano, vinu-voodoo doll na nila ako [laughter] Pero I always tell them that in the kind of work that we do—kinuwento ko ito kay Johannes at saka kay Joy earlier—there is no space for our egos.

    Halimbawa, most of you are well aware of the political complexities, and I was telling Joy earlier that sometimes or most of the time, we have a hard time asking for help from certain government agencies. Not all—some. Kinukuwento ko sa kanila, marami akong mga sulat na humihingi ng tulong. Ako na iyong sumusulat, Vice President ako, pero hindi nga… hindi nga sinasagot. Marami akong requests for appointment kasi sasabihin ko iyong kahirapan sa mga lugar na napupuntahan naming, pero hindi ako nagga-grant-an ng appointment. So kung mataas iyong aking ego, ay, hindi ko na iyon gagawin. Pero because we are focused on the kind of the work that we want to do, parang you have to set aside all these. Hindi lang ego, pero all the difficulties.

    Iyong sa amin, ang babata ng mga staff pero hindi—ewan ko lang, baka gumi-gimik din sila hindi ko lang alam—[laughter] Pero iyang mga iyan, nagbababad iyan sa communities. Hindi umuuwi, pa-minsan, more than a week, ano. Si Alexis ba iyon? Si Alexis ba iyong two weeks sa bagyo? Ah, si Byron. [chuckles] Marami sa kanila hindi umuuwi. Wala talagang time. Nasisingit naman ang lovelife minsan, pero karamihan sa kanila hindi iniinda iyong lahat na kahirapan.

    So iyong sa akin, we have been doing a lot of work with very young people. This is the first time that we’re doing Young Leaders in Government but we have had a series of Angat Buhay Youth Summits already. We’ve had one in Metro Manila, we’ve had one in Cagayan de Oro, we’ve had one in Cotabato, we’ve had one in—ayon na. We invite youth organizations to pitch projects.

    Pero iyong sa amin, what we are looking for is not just one-time, big-time projects. What we’re looking for our projects—parati ko iyang inuulit sa… parati kong inuulit sa staff ko na hindi ko tatanggapin iyong mga report na ang mga accomplishment, activities. Sabi ko tatanggapin ko lang iyong report kung iyong accomplishment iyong metrics, iyong results. Because I think that is [a] failure of governance.

    Halimbawa, when you go to communities where malnutrition is very high, pagpunta mo ang dami naman nilang feeding programs. Kapag tiningnan mo iyong kanilang accomplishment report, iyong number of children fed ang dami. Ang daming ginagastos ng gobyerno for feeding programs. Pero iyong metrics kasi, number of children fed, ‘di ba? So iyon iyong parati naming away sa opisina, na kapag nagsa-submit sila ng report ang parati kong hinahanap iyong resulta. Parati kong sinasabi na, “Bahala na kayo sa paraan. Mga bata kayo, mas… siguro you’re more imaginative than I am kasi mas matanda na ako sa inyo, mas marami kayong naiisip na maganda. Basta ibigay niyo sa akin iyong resultang gusto ko.”

    So basically, ang improvement in governance would require a change in mindset. Sabi kanina ni Joy, institutions and the kind of officials that would implement the programs matter. Totoo iyon, and that is the reason why we are doing this—because we want this to be a platform. We want this to be a sanctuary of progressive leaders. We want this to be a family of ethical, empowering, and effective leaders. Wala kayo dito para turuan namin kasi most of the time, mas marami kayong alam kaysa sa amin. Pero we want to create an environment where we will learn from each other. We want to create an environment where papalakasin natin iyong mga loob ng bawat isa.

    I’m coming from the experience of my husband. Kasi alam ito ni Joy, my husband became mayor at the age of 29 and he was a minority mayor. Kaunti lang iyong panalo niya. Iyong mga natalo niya were all coming from political dynasties. Noong nanalo siya, majority of the members of the local council were from the other party. Lahat na gusto niyang gawin, kino-kontra. Wala siyang magawa kasi bawat gusto niya, kokontrahin.

    He became mayor in 1988 right after the EDSA Revolution—sorry ha, natatagalan kasi marami akong kuwento—after EDSA Revolution, hindi pa noon uso iyong mga Bundy clock. Uso pa noon iyong mga 15:30; uso pa noon iyong mga pumapasok, umaalis sa office na kung anong oras nila gusto. And then when my husband became mayor, for the very first time, there was a Bundy clock and employees rebelled against it. May naglagay pa ng asin sa Bundy clock para masira, [laughter] kasi hindi sila sanay na regimented iyong mga rules. Pero iyong rules kasi mahalaga. Sa amin, pinag-aawayan din namin sa office iyong nale-late sa flag ceremony. Kaya kahit mag-gimik sa gabi, kailangan nasa office para sa flag ceremony—those things.

    These are things which are sometimes would seem petty, but they actually contribute to the big thing.

    Halimbawa, while we were doing Angat Buhay already, we decided that we will give as much focus and energy on the strengthening of our internal systems. So pinagpaguran namin iyon. Talagang kahit nagpoprobinsya iyong marami, kailangan talagang bumalik sa opisina kasi we were vying for our ISO certification and we got our ISO certification one year into my term. After that, we were one of the very few offices who got an unqualified report from COA.

    So, mas mabuti iyong parating may ina-aspire, ‘di ba? Mahirap iyong hindi nangangarap kasi iyong pagbuhos ng energies into doing things, iba kapag mayroon kang gustong i-attain. Ngayon siyempre iyong gusto naming ma-attain, again, iyong ISO certification namin ma-retain naming; iyong aming unqualified opinion sa COA, ma-retain namin.

    But it takes a lot of sacrifice. Alam na alam iyan ng mga staff na—ako, nagagalit akong nag-aabono sila. Pero sobra din ang higpit namin sa paggastos ng pera ng opisina. Talagang those things. Pa-minsan kasi sa gobyerno, parati kong sinasabi sa kanila na kung pera ng gobyerno, pag-ingatan natin nang maayos. Kasi sometimes, iyong pagsasabihan akong, “Puwede naman i-charge,” iyon iyong nakakainit ng ulo ko parati. [laughter] Pinag-aawayan namin iyon kapag sinasabi sa akin na puwede naman i-charge. So luging-lugi ako kasi iyong mga kailangan tuloy na nadi-disallow, ako iyong nag-aabono.

    Pero again, the reason why I am telling you these things is all of us here have a lot of experiences—similar experiences. And how we have dealt with those experiences, how we have responded, is important in the conversation. Kasi kapag sinabi mo lang na freedom, human rights, parang very unsexy, ‘di ba? Those terms are very unsexy for many people. Pero what we do not realize is that these are values that we live by everyday na hindi lang natin napapansin. Pero mahalaga na we take it to heart. Mahalaga na kahit nag-iisa lang tayo sa ating opisina na ganito iyong iniisip, dapat hindi tayo mawalan ng resolve.

    Ako, madalas ko iyon maisip. Alam niyo naman siguro na grabe iyong trolls ko online. Sa dami nang ginagawa namin sa office, parati sa aking sinasabi wala akong ginagawa. Pero you know, these are—if you are too sensitive about these things, you will lose your focus. So iyong sa akin lang, mahalaga itong grupo natin kasi kahit walang nag-a-appreciate sa atin na iba, itong pamilya natin, alam kung anong ginagawa natin. And bawat isa sa atin iyong mag-e-encourage sa bawat isa na manatili.

    Mahirap kasi kapag pakiramdam mo, nag-iisa ka lang, ‘di ba? Nag-iisa ka lang. Kasi pa-minsan, mawawalan ka talaga ng… parang you start questioning, “Bakit ko ba ito ginagawa? Bakit ko pa ba ito ginagawa?”

    Pero halimbawa kami, because we are—half our week we’re immersed in our communities—kahit tirahin ako nang tirahin, parang para sa akin, wala nang saysay iyong tira. Kasi you see the suffering around, parang nagiging petty na iyong tira. Parang, “Bakit ba kita papansinin, eh ang daming kailangan doon sa pinupuntahan namin?”

    For example, recently, we have been devoting our time building dormitories. We have been building dormitories inside high schools—public high schools—kasi we realized that one of the reasons why the dropout rates in high school is so high is because ang lalayo ng mga inuuwian ng mga bata.

    The first dormitory that we built was in Siayan in Zamboanga del Norte. Siayan is one of the 50 communities that we adopted in 2016. Siayan was the poorest municipality in the Philippines from 2003 to 2009, and dropout rate is very high. We built a dorm inside a public high school, first, boys’ dorm pa lang and the improvement in the rates of absenteeism and dropouts dramatically improved after the dorm was [built] there.

    Kami iyong nagpatayo, libre iyong tira sa dorm, ang obligasyon lang ng school was for them to take care of the utilities and for them to hire a houseparent. Umuuwi iyong mga bata every weekend. Ang assignment lang nila, pagbalik may baon silang food for the week na mashe-share nila sa iba. Although, we’re trying to cure this a little, kasi we visited Siayan again and na-find out namin, ang baon nila for the entire week, daing araw-araw. Siguro dahil walang [refrigerator], hindi nila mai-istore. So our next dormitory in Sumilao, gumawa na ng vegetable garden para mayroong gulay.

    So, those things. Parang, simple, parang no-brainer na isipin pero grabe iyong epekto sa dropout rates.

    Right now, we have five. We have five dorms already. In Siayan, we just inaugurated the ladies’ dorm, the girls’ dorm. We have one in Sumilao, Bukidnon; iyong sa Sumilao, nasa gitna siya ng pineapple plantation. And we have two in Eastern Samar, and these are very poor municipalities. Sa Eastern Samar, one in Balangkayan, another in Salcedo. Iyong staff namin—ewan ko kung sino dito iyong… mayroon ba dito iyong nakasama sa paglakad? Ah, si Elcy? Sumama kayo? Wala siya dito? Sumama sila sa paglakad. Iyong iba, naglalakad three hours each way every day hanggang 12, 13 kilometers each way, kasi ang only mode of transportation na available is habal-habal, and it costs them about 120 pesos, ‘di ba? So hindi naman nila kaya. So iyong dorm talaga is a blessing for everyone.

    So, these are the kinds of programs that we have. Pero there is one colatilla: we require the mayors and some other officials of our Angat Buhay areas to take part in our Bridging Leadership program. Talagang nag-aaral sila. Pero the reason why we do that is we know for a fact that we will only be here until 2022, and sayang naman if the LGU will not be able to sustain. So kapag pumipili kami, hindi enough na mahirap lang iyong lugar niyo, pero kapag pinipili namin iyong lugar, dapat willing iyong local chief executive to undergo these things. So, ganoon.

    Napakahaba na noong sinabi ko [laughter] but I hope, that gives you enough context of why we are doing this. We want to—hindi naman develop kasi tingin ko, nasa sa inyo na iyon, eh. Pero we just want to provide platforms where people like you would gain energy and strength and inspiration from each other. The mere fact that you applied for these programs—sobrang gulat nga namin na ang daming nag-apply, kasi when we were just conceptualizing this, Johannes, we were thinking that it might be very unattractive because we are talking about freedom, human rights. Pero almost a hundred applied, and you are the lucky… 41. Parang usapan natin dati 20 lang [laughter] tapos naging 30, naging 40. [laughs] Parang nahirapan kasi sila Joy pumili sa dami ng quality applicants.

    Pero iyon, we look forward to having a meaningful partnership with you. As Johannes has said earlier, this is a work in progress. We’re doing this for the first time. I’m sure this will not be perfect, but if only for the fact that we will be able to create a community where everyone is encouraged to keep on fighting. Hindi laban sa gobyerno, pero keep on fighting the good fight and never losing hope, okay na iyon. And inspiring others to be hopeful as well.

    So thank you very much, Johannes and FES na lang— [laughter]—ang hirap i-pronounce, eh—FES. Thank you, Joy. Thank you to the other members of the panel and thank you all for joining our family.

    Magandang hapon sa inyong lahat. [applause]

    Posted in Speeches on Sep 17, 2019